These are unusual times for us all. Indeed, most of us cannot remember a circumstance when during a time of crisis churches were asked to suspend worship services and meetings.
However, in the instance of the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts warn us that it is in the best interest of church members, especially those in high-risk categories, the community, the state of Alabama, our nation and world for us to stop assembling for a period of time for worship services and other group gatherings. We are told by trusted health authorities that the best way to slow down the spread of the contagious coronavirus in Alabama is now — early in its progress. Congregations that long to be together in worship during a time like this, but who instead suspend services to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, are showing sacrificial care for others.
Thus, your cabinet, other Conference leadership and I are urging and requesting that for at least the next two weeks (March 16-30) all of our North Alabama Conference United Methodist Churches suspend in-person worship and gatherings. We will assess the situation week-by-week to determine when it is safe to resume worship services, using as guidance the wisdom of our local, state and national health authorities.
In the spirit of this request, the United Methodist Center in Birmingham will be closed to the public effective immediately until further notice except for any meetings scheduled for Monday, March 16. The United Methodist Center will remain open to Conference staff, with those who are more comfortable working remotely having the option to do so.
Though we are calling for a suspension of in-person church worship services, the church will continue to be in ministry. Some of our churches offer on-line and Facebook live-stream or video services. Many of our churches are already reaching out in creative, caring and responsible ways to assist neighbors who are negatively impacted by the virus. The appointive cabinet and other Conference leadership are preparing a resource tool for clergy of potential ways to be the church in this crisis. If you have ideas that you would like considered for inclusion in this resource tool, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org by this Tuesday, 9 a.m. The resource tool, including specific information about live-streamed and video options will be sent electronically to clergy early this week.
Remember that even as worship services are suspended for a season, our relationship with Jesus and the church universal continues 24/7. Though COVID-19 did not exist when Paul penned Romans 8:38-39 nearly 2000 years ago, his words apply to today’s circumstances. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As Christ’s hands and feet, we have the opportunity to help others know God’s love every day, including during this time of crisis.
Thank you for being who you are. Your response to the coronavirus pandemic as individuals and churches is a powerful witness to Jesus, the One we serve.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference